I hated seeing Per every day.
It was made all the worse by his easy going and all too likable ways. At the same time I couldn't get enough. I found myself making excuses to go to the room with Per and Nilla. It was too much like my life before and each moment of his presence reminded me of her.
I watched through the window as Per said his goodbyes to Nilla. The two had hardly been apart since that day we left Sunset Valley. Not that I could blame them. Their love was so pure it could melt a glacier. Cracked and bleeding already I was no match for their happiness and could do nothing but witness the mysteries of heart lived out in front of me.
I leaned over the balcony letting the sounds of the city add background music to my memory. The heat of the day still hung in the air turning into a brown haze as it merged with the fumes from below. I missed the woods, the quiet peace I found there, but then I doubted I would ever find peace again.
The living can have ghosts too and hers was everywhere. Mint Cream Parfait. The name floated through my mind speeding up my pulse and leaving me longing with their passage. Why did she have to come back into my life? I thought I had rid myself of her spectre but then, as if she had never left, there she was shining like my own personal sun. My body remembered every touch, every caresses of her flesh on that night that should never have happened.
I couldn't bring myself to regret a single moment although the memory of it caused me pain, ripping into my soul with the knowledge it could be nothing more. A breeze rippled through the air bringing a salty tangy that jarred my senses. Shaking my head as if I could shake loose my thoughts I stood and made my way into the flat.
Nilla was humming to herself as she puttered away in the kitchen. I watched for a moment in silence. I had never known Nilla to hum, or putter for that matter. Since meeting Per she had blossomed and for that alone I would be forever his friend. If only.... Sighing to cut myself off before I could once again begin my downward spiral I stepped forward.
"Bit late to be starting dinner isn't it?"
She jumped at my voice nearly sloshing the contents of the bowl over herself. "You scared me Ice!"
"Sorry." I tried not to smile but I couldn't help myself. "So what's with the feast." I gestured to counters littered with half finished dishes.
"Oh this?" She chuckled to herself as if to dismiss the mess in the kitchen. "Just keeping myself busy really."
My eyes narrowed as I caught the wringing of her hands and the small tug of her bottom lip as she bit down on it. "Nilla?" I asked slowly so as not to startle her. "What's going on?"
She turned away from me industriously stirring again and very carefully not meeting my gaze. "Oh you know. With Per out I had some free time so I just thought I'd try out some of these recipes. They've always seemed quite good but you know I've never really had anyone to cook them for since you prefer to cook your own food. Not that I mind that of course."
She was babbling, clearly nervous, but why? "Nilla where's Per? Did he go to Sunset Valley?"
It was an a shot in the dark but it must have hit home. Jolting as if struck by a current she cried out dropping her mixing bowl. It crashed to the floor shattering as it fell. Rushing to her side I knelt to clear it up.
"Oh Ice I'm so sorry," she wailed. She was shaking hands barely able to hold the pieces she picked up from the floor. "I'm just a bundle of nerves tonight and I don't know what to do."
She was crying in earnest now and I placed my hands on her shoulders gently raising her to her feet. "Just tell me what happened." If he hurt her I swore to Berry he would have breathed his last. I cradled her in my arms while she shuttered.
Slowly at first but with a gathering speed the story leaked out of her. "He's gone after Mint. She found the source of the flowers that poisoned Flax and tracked them to a house. She was supposed to go to the police but Moon can't find her and the police have no record of her visit. Moon thinks Mint has taken matters into her own hands and called Per." She looked up at me eyes shining with tears. "He had to go. To protect her. But what if that murderer comes home? I've already lost my brother to him, I can't loose my fiancé too."
Fiancé? The word pulled me up short but it wasn't the time to ask.
"It will be fine Nilla," I said soothingly. "Surely the police will be there soon and then they will be save."
She pulled her head away from my shoulder, eyes wide with fear. "But the police haven't been called."
"Haven't been call? But why?" Sure Moon would have wanted to give Mint all the back up she needed.
"Ice," she gasped. "If the police get there while Mint is inside then she'll be the one in trouble for breaking and entering."
Oh, of course. How did I miss the little fact of Mint's illegal entry. Nilla pulled away from me then biting her lip and dropping her gaze. Her nose wrinkled in the way it always did when she had to say something but knew I wouldn't like it.
"There's something else too," she glanced up and then quickly away when she caught me looking. "Moontoldmeitwasyourhouse." The words came out in a rush jumbled up and running together. I stood for a moment working it out. Before their meaning had dawned on me my feet were already rushing to the door.
The icy blast of the wind hit hard as I raced out of town. I could feel it through the thin layers of my clothing but even the moment it would have taken to grab a thicker jacket was one I could not afford to loose. My mind sped along as fast as my bike as it followed the trail of all Nilla had told me. Mint had found the murderer and like the impulsive and reckless girl she'd always been she went to investigate on her own. That was enough to worry me on it's own but at the mention of the house, my old house, I knew that nothing but trouble would wait for her there.
Even two years ago when Maize had bought the house from me I could see the madness behind his eyes. If he had snapped, if he was behind Flax's death, then Mint was in true danger.
"Let her be safe," I repeated over and over to myself. The road hummed beneath me as it counted off the miles the words blending with the sound. I lost myself to the rhythm and pushed the bike harder.
My tires squealed on the road as I rounded the last corner. Headless of my safely I launched from the bike before it had stopped sending it skittering across the lawn. From the road I could see my worst fears come to life. Smoke billowed out of the windows and flames licked the kitchen hungrily. I didn't wait to think about the consequences but ran headlong to door.
The heat was intense blasting me backwards as it surged out to meet me. Coughing and wiping away the water that formed in my eyes I cast about desperately for some sign of Mint. I didn't have to look far before the sight of a bookcase blocking the entrance to the basement rose in front of me. I lunged for it, fighting the burning in my lungs I tugged with all my might to they and shift it.
With a final pull I wrenched it far enough away go be able to get to the door. Gasping in the too thin air I grabbed the handle. Pain seared my hand at once and I snatched it back. The damage was done and an ugly red line ran across my palm burned from the heat. I grasp the edge of my jacket and wrapped my left hand in it before trying again.
A single light shone below and I nearly fell down the stairs in my haste. To my relief and my horror Mint was there, bit she wasn't moving.
I raced to her side cradling her in my arms. "Mint!" I could not contain my cry as I lifted her from the ground. She moaned slightly and in what seemed and unconscious gesture lifted her hands around my neck. My heart skipped a beat and I could not help the tear that fell down my cheek in my happiness to know she was alive.
I marvelled at the weight of her in my arms as I carried her to safety outside. Slowly I shifted her so as not to jostle her when I set her down. My hand felt the trim lines of her body as it moved from her back to her stomach. The firmness was still there built from years at the gym but under it's hardness was something unexpected as well. A bump, small and yet so clear lay beneath my protective grip. Placing her on the grass I let myself be drawn by temptation to trace the line of her face. Gently I lifted her hands from my shoulders and rested them on her stomach and on the treasure I now knew was there.
One more trip, this one harder than the last, and I had Per beside his sister on the grass. Mint was stirring now the fresh night air having revived her.
"Where...?" Her eyes flashed open when she realised she was out of the inferno. Casting about wildly she breathed a heavy sigh of relief when her hand found Per's. "Maize!" she gasped sitting up quickly. The speed of her movement too much she sank back to the ground reaching out to me. "You have to find Maize." Her voice was pleading cutting to my soul.
I didn't have to find Maize, I knew exactly where he lay having spotting his legs under a pile of rubble earlier but with the intensity of the fire I feared another trip. As if sensing my hesitation she moved her shaking arm to mine. "Please," she whispered before drifting back to unconsciousness.
Cursing myself for a fool I started back to the house. The fire had long raged out of control and I could hear the sounds of sirens in the distance signalling the approach of the fire brigade. No sooner than I had reached the porch than I was blown backwards. The force was so strong that I was pushed clear of the house and found myself on the lawn not far from Mint and Per. I let darkness take me then and hoped for a brighter day when I woke.
Darkness can not last forever and as the sun rose I found myself on the beach searching for my own light. Mint and Per had been taken to the hospital but I refused having spent to many hours there of late. Maize was dead, killed by the explosion in the house. The results of his actions in life and death were still unknown and the police were keeping the whole thing under wraps until it could be fully investigated. I did not spare much of a time thinking of him though my mind fully occupied with Mint.
The knowledge of Mint's unborn child brought a thought unbidden to my mind. It was beyond a dream and I desired it greatly but was it right? I spent the rest of the night sat on the beach trying to figure that out and I was no closer to the answer. Now as sky streaked with the coming of dawn I knew there was only one way to find out.
I hadn't been here since I left Sunset Valley and although the years were plan on Mr. and Mrs. Parfait the house looked no different. Mrs. Parfait narrowed her eyes at me as I approached and proved that while they may be lined with ages they were as sharp as always.
"Toffee? My goodness what brings you here?" she said hurriedly wiping the dirt from her hands.
Clearing my throat, Berry but I hadn't been this nervous since my first audition, I walked froward. "Well...em...well I came to speak with Mr. Parfait."
"What can I do for you son?" Mr. Parfait's confusion at my presence did not make him any less the gentleman.
"Well sir, you see I've sort of, well that is to say we sort of...er...well Mint and I...," I trailed off not exactly sure how to put to words what was so clear in my head.
"Are you still chasing after Mint?" Mrs. Parfait asked half joking.
I looked at her holding her gaze steady in mine. As if I could push my emotions across the air between us I let all the love I had held inside since the first moment I saw Mint come flooding out with one simple word. "Always."
The gleam that flashed in her eyes in return told me she already knew. I turned my attention to Mr. Parfait somehow knowing now what to say.
"I love you daughter sir, always have. I don't know if she feels the same way about me but I could never spend my life with any other."
"It's a bit old fashion, although I guess I am too, but I would like to ask you for your daughter hand in marriage.